Saturday, August 19, 2006

24/7 Gratitude

24/7 gratitude. What a concept. That's the name of my AA home group. When I first went back to meetings in June I worried I'd have to paste on a fake smile, and be happy all the time, in order to qualify for membership. A scary thought when I was having a hard time being grateful 24 minutes in 7 days.

A week ago I wrote this post. With my self loathing at an all time high, matched only by my foul and pissy mouth, is it any wonder that post got zero comments? I mean, what's a person say to someone who has all but warned you she's going to tell you to piss off if you dare try and shed some light on her darkness?

When I was first back attending meetings I was wary of anything that smacked of joy. Cynic that I can be, I didn't trust that what the person was saying could really be true. People talked about being grateful for the program and I thought to myself, "man, what a crock." I thought they had their loyalties misplaced. Be grateful for God, not a mere program. Ah, what arrogance. There I was, barely able to lift my head and look anyone in the eye to say, "Hi, my name is Hope and I am an alcoholic." I was so despondent that people thought I was attending my first meeting ever. There were audible gasps when I revealed I hadn't had a drink in 18 years and hadn't been to a meeting in over 8. My outer shell did not reflect someone with that many years of sobriety behind them. And there I sat, thinking I had the answers? Ha.

As I've gone to meetings week after week, I've listened, learned and been humbled. Listened to stories of true gratitude and learned that not drinking and sobriety are two very different things. Humbled to hear people with only days of sobriety be far more honest than I. And I was faced with the realization that if I wanted what they had, I had to do what they were doing. Shit. Sometimes personal responsibility sucks. If I was going to continue to go to meetings, then I was going to have to make some choices. Do the hard work, or quit my bitching.

All I had to do was tell the truth. My truth. How hard could that be? Really hard, it turns out. I'm used to living life from my head. Telling the truth involves saying how things are with you, head and heart. It means being vulnerable. It means sharing both the good times and bad. It means saying how it is, even if it reveals that today I am not working the program one little bit. Looking into their faces of compassion and understanding, I still had a hard time not judging myself for my reality. But it's hard to lie to people who have the best bullshit detectors around. I felt that at any given moment someone in the meeting was going to jump up and yell, "Fraud." Their honesty was simply showing me my lack of it. I knew I was either going to lie myself right into a drunk or risk enough to start telling the truth. Why do we, in the church, prize fraudulent answers over real ones, Sunday after Sunday? At meetings I found myself wanting to give into grandiosity. Make things seem better than they were. Make myself seem better than I was. Or at least better than anyone else in the room. I wanted to come out on top.

Only thing is, it's not a competition. And if I was going to make it one, I could possibly add days of not drinking to my tally sheet, but none to my sobriety.

Since I went to confession last Sunday I have hunkered down to do the hard work. Father Charlie challenged me to do some soul searching. To look beneath my behaviour to what prompted me to choose those things in the first place. I was sick and tired enough of the cycle of self loathing to at least be willing. I wanted what those at my meetings had, more than I wanted a repeat of a cycle of my own making.

And so I started doing what I heard around the tables and read in the Big Book. Pray before you get out of bed in the morning. Pray before you go to sleep at night. And make them the no bullshit kind of prayers. Tell God when I want a drink, an escape, a self numbing oblivion. Ask for help. Search for the what I really was wanting and say it outloud. Be grateful for a day of sobriety. Admit that without God's grace and mercy I was sunk. Ask for help. Pray for the knowledge of God's will for me and the power to carry it out. Some nights, like last night, sleep was a long time in coming and I desperately wanted to numb myself into la-la land. Times like that the honesty is crucial and the praying even more. It's much easier to take matters into my own hands than to reach out for God's.

I got a glimpse this week, for the first time in 18 years, of what it means to journey one day at a time. What it looks like to pray for grace for this day only. How it feels to turn to God with all my frailties, trusting that God's grace and mercy will sustain me where my self will won't. Other people may be able to skip these kinds of prayers on a regular basis and be none the worse for wear. I'm learning the hard way that I can't.

This morning, at my meeting, I was able to talk honestly about the overwhelming gratitude I felt today. Gratitude that when I needed help, there was a meeting to attend and fellow travelers to journey with. Gratitude that God's grace and mercy were there for the asking, at any moment, on any day. I spoke of how I used to think me and God were enough but that I had learned I could no longer journey without their companionship. A week feels like such a short amount of time to have learned anything. But the gratitude feels real. And for that I am grateful.

Today I wrote in my journal: "Something has shifted within me. I'm not trying - straining - to keep from succumbing to my addictions anymore. This time it's not like my worth is in whether I do this perfectly or not. It feels like I've humbled myself and am simply crying out to God for help because I know I can't do it on my strength alone. Will power won't keep me free. It feels like a good shift, whatever it is."

And then I turned to the Big Book and read these words; which summed up exactly how I felt last week at this time: "There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self- searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it." ~ Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 25

Tonight, before I go to sleep I will talk to God about my day. About how grateful I am for a day of sobriety and abstinence. Grateful for the grace to make good choices, life giving choices. Grateful to be learning what it means not to be ashamed of my reality.

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